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/ Source: TODAY
By Erica Chayes Wida

Throw everything you thought you knew about gingerbread-house making out the icing-bordered window.

"Top Chef" host Padma Lakshmi and her daughter Krishna have become total pros at holiday baking. They kicked off the season with a day of Christmas cookie baking and decorating, which Lakshmi posted to her Instagram on Dec. 9 — which, coincidentally, was National Pastry Day.

"Next weekend, we do a gingerbread house, and we get a little Martha Stewart about it," Lakshmi told Architectural Digest while hosting the Kellogg's Holiday Baking Challenge in New York City on Dec. 12.

Now, Lakshmi and her daughter don't construct any old, run-of-the-mill gingerbread house. And would you expect anything else from the cookbook author and frequent TODAY Show guest? In fact, Lakshmi said that she worked on perfecting her gingerbread game for years before figuring out the secret to flawlessly sweet decor.

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"Here's a real tip. This took me years to figure out," Lakshmi told AD. "Most of the directions that come with the kit tell you to make the house with the icing and then decorate. I'm telling you, you should not do that."

Minds. Blown.

According to Lakshmi, this is how gingerbread houses should be made:

  1. Lay out all of the different pieces (the sides, the roof, etc.) facing up on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  2. Decorate each house side with all of the icing, sprinkles, pieces of candy and whatever else your heart desires. Feel free to get creative! Lakshmi and her daughter cut green Jujube candies to make leaves and add red candy balls to make an apple tree. She also uses Rice Krispies to create sand, hay or a pebble driveway.
  3. Once the house parts are completely decorated and dry, line the sides with icing and put them all together. Lakshmi said all the beautiful decorations can slide off if you decorate the house once the walls are vertical.
Padma Lakshmi thinks gingerbread kit companies should change the instructions so that the houses aren't built before they're decorated.Getty Images

Lakshmi also advises tackling a gingerbread house over several days.

"It's like an oil painting and needs time for the layers. It takes several days for us to make gingerbread houses," Lakshmi said. "I have no stake in this company, but I often felt like writing to them and being, like, you should really change the printed directions."

TODAY Food reached out to a few gingerbread-kit companies about whether they would heed Lakshmi's decorating advice, but none replied by the time of publication. However, Tracey Johnston-Crum, who is in charge of the National Gingerbread House Competition in Asheville, North Carolina, told TODAY that the most important part of building a gingerbread house (whether the sides are glued together first or decorated first) comes down to drying.

"Generally, the rule of thumb is to construct any interior details first, and then create the larger sections of the overall structure around them. Exterior decoration when larger is added prior to construction, while smaller decoration can be added once the structure is upright," Johnston-Crum told TODAY Food. "To be honest, it’s really all about drying. Decorations and details that dry fully, stay put."

And now, thanks to Lakshmi, we all have the secret to decorations that will stay put through the season — unless they're eaten first, of course.